I have wanted to go to Vienna ever since the moment I watched the kitsch classic that is the Sissi film trilogy from the 50’s with my grandma when I was a kid. Now, my British readers may not be that familiar with Empress Elizabeth, or Sissi as she is more commonly known, but in central Europe she is a pretty big historical and sentimental deal. Think of her as the Princess Di of the 19thcentury, a stunning and innocent 15-year-old Bavarian princess, shipped off to Vienna to marry the Emperor of the Habsburg empire Franz Joseph, the Habsburg empire being at this point in time the strongest and grandest power in Europe.
Her life was full of tragedy- trapped in a loveless marriage to the emperor that she could not escape, 2 children of hers that died very young and caused her to eventually live behind a black veil for the latter years of her life, and her own untimely death at the age of 60, stabbed by an anarchist calling for the end of the monarchy, all lived out against the backdrop of Vienna’s extravgant palaces. It was only a matter of time really before this Hollywood ready story was made into a film and the three films made about Sissi in the 50’s and 60’s became as cult worthy as the empress herself.
Starring Romy Schneider who ended up having an equally tragedy seeped life, full of addiction, heartbreak and death, it showed the fantastically over the top palaces, her amazing dresses and Vienna as this almost fairy tale like city where the best of European high culture came together.
Ever since then I have wanted to see Vienna with my own eyes and even ended up studying all about Austria, the empire and its slow decline as part of my undergrad degree (let’s never forget my super useful three years spent studying Eastern European Modern history at UCL...).
It ended up taking until the ripe old age of 27 until I finally made it to Vienna but it was worth the wait. Vienna has been ranked the most liveable city in the world for the 10th year in a row and after visiting I can only agree with this assessment, heck me and my favourite travel companion Maddie did not want to leave after our long weekend there. It’s a beautiful, clean and easily navigable city with a sense of safety you don’t really ever get to feel in London. The locals were incredibly friendly (apart from when serving us in restaurants but more on that later), the food was of an amazing quality and offered fantastic value for money and nowhere every felt too overcrowded, even the coolest rooftop bar in town on a sunny Saturday, somewhere that would have been absolutely rammed in London to a point where it would not have been enjoyable anymore.
It was one of the nicest places I have ever been to and what made it even better is that no one in my age bracket really seems to know about it as a weekend getaway, most museums with an average visitor age of 65+ - Vienna, this utterly amazing gem in the middle of Europe, that has not been ruined by mass tourism yet.
It pains me therefore to even write this as I should for selfish reason keep it a secret, but I urge you all to make Vienna your next European getaway destination, it will utterly charm you in every single way and I for one cannot wait to return. Oh, Vienna you are a beauty that will forever hold a special place in my heart.
HOW TO GET THERE
It’s surprisingly cheap, easy and quick to get to Vienna. The flight time is under 2 hours, which is even bearable for someone that detests flying like me, and we managed to get our hands on some £60 return flights with Laudamotion, an airline that used to be owned by Formula 1 legend Nikki Lauder but is now part of Ryanair.
Be warned though, as is the case with Ryanair, there are a lot of hidden costs additional to what one could assume is the final fare, £12 to have a carry on suitcase (yup, you pay extra to take anything additional to a tiny handbag onto the plane), £4 each way if you wanted to ensure you sit together, we risked it and managed to swap places with other passengers also keen to sit next to people they actually know but there is no guarantee, and getting to the airport - flying out of Stansted there is really no way of avoiding shelling out £25 on the Stansted express unless you want to brave taking a coach.
Still, even with this all added in, it really doesn’t cost the world to get to Vienna and after leaving my house bright and early in London at 6:20am on a Saturday morning we were checked in and ready to start our Viennese adventure by 12pm local time!
Straight off the plane, we hopped on the City Airport Train (CAT) which got us into the central Vienna train station in an incredible 16 minutes. A return ticket was 21 euros which, though not cheap, is reasonable compared to what you can end up paying in the UK to get to certain airports.
To my surprise there is no citymapper app available in Vienna yet which is a little odd considering that it is a capital city (also I just bloody love citymapper in general). However, we managed to navigate our way around the city using iphone maps and googlemaps pretty easily. The city centre is super compact and you can walk pretty much anywhere in under 40 mins. They also have a very good underground train system, similar to the tube in terms of line structure, which for 2.40 euros will get you to most places in town in under 20 minutes!
As some of you may recall I stayed at the 25hours hotel in Dusseldorf not too long ago and absolutely fell in love with its refreshing approach of offering an affordable boutique hotel experience, aimed at a younger audience that want to travel (and sleep) in style without having to spend a small fortune.
When I found out they had a 25hours hotel as part of the group in Vienna I knew that was where I wanted to stay for this trip and was once again not let down. While the Dusseldorf hotel 25hour has a French theme when it comes to its interiors and dining, here it is all about the fantastical world of the circus - it may sound a little odd but here is executed in an extremely tasteful and modern way.
The staff were once again an absolute delight, going out of their way to make our stay there as pleasant as possible and there is little to criticise. I can really only recommend a stay at any of their hotels based on my experiences in Vienna and Dusseldorf, as they both offered a truly great and unique hotel experience! More on the specifics below.
The 25hours is located right in the heart of the Museumquartier, the part of town known for its museums, grand buildings and picturesque parks. You are on the main shopping street in under 10 minutes’ walk and have culture, pretty cafes and nice restaurants at every corner. Most places on our to do and see list were in walking distance and really location wise you can’t do much better!
We got a standard sized room which won us over with its quirky circus inspired interior (I loved the slightly OTT jester print wallpaper and quirky little touches like a hoola hoop left for us at our disposal) and also had an incredible rainforest shower.
We had plenty of space for the two of us, with the added bonus of a lovely large balcony overlooking the gorgeous buildings around us, a perfect spot for a pre-dinner glass of rose and a standout feature of the room.
We had breakfast included with our stay and though I am usually quite critical of hotel buffet breakfasts this was pretty good. Smashed avo, unlimited smoked salmon, freshly baked and fluffy bretzel, plenty of cheese and a decent coffee – after quite a late Saturday night their breakfast offering was a real saviour and above average in terms of the quality of food offered.
25hours hotels seem to specialise in one thing in particular that makes them stand out from your bog-standard hotel and that is having bloody amazing rooftop bars sitting on top of their hotels. Not quite as high up as in Dusseldorf, where it is on the 19thfloor, here their rooftop bar, Dachboden, on the 8thfloor (no skyscrapers to compete with to be fair so you still get an awesome view of the historical centre of Vienna) is an absolute gorgeous finishing touch to the hotel.
There is an indoor space with ample seating, as well as a sort of outdoor balcony that goes around part of the building, offering stunning panorama views. I can see why this has quickly become a favourite with the locals as hang out spot for sunny days, especially when an Aperol spritz will only set you back €6.50, and it never felt too overcrowded! We would have probably ended up here whether we stayed at the hotel or not during this trip but I have to say it was pretty special that the coolest rooftop bar in town was a mere two floors up from our cosy bed!
There are about a gazillion supposedly amazing cafes and bakeries in Vienna and it is pretty impossible to see them all during a weekend trip without entering into sugar comma (which we got close to anyways with the amount of cake and wafers we consumed).
Some names kept on cropping up as I was doing my foodie research- Café Sperl, Café Aida, Cafe Prückel, oh I could go on for hours, and they all looked grand and delicious in their own ways. However, Café Schwarzberg got me intrigued when I stumbled across it on a random list of best cafes in Vienna where it was described as “classic Viennese café without the tourist hordes”. As someone that detests tourist traps but still wanted some typical Austrian baked goods this sounded ideal and when we realised it was a mere 18 minute walk from our hotel our minds were made up!
There is dark wood panelling, chandeliers, a piano and elderly waiters all suited up, instantly transporting into the glory days of Viennese coffee culture in the 19thcentury, a world away from Stansted airport where we had been just a few hours earlier.
There is lovely outside space too but we wanted to take in the old-school interior fully and found a great little spot near the cake display. Oh, and what a display, too many amazing looking cakes to really settle for one, heck I could have easily tried 4 or 5. In the end we behaved, knowing that more eating was to be done, and had a slice each plus a Sacher rum square, a square piece of Sachertorte that is soaked in rum and covered in delicious pink fondant icing and finished off with a single glacé cherry on top. It was all kinds of amazing - boozy, sweet, moist and just absolutely delicious, a must order for any Vienna visitor for sure.
The same can be said for the cake slice I went for after a lot of deliberation – their “Mozart bomb”, layers of Sachertorte cake and pistachio cream, topped with the smoothest of green coloured marzipan, surprisingly light yet indulgent and showcasing the real craftsmanship that lies behind every cake made here.
Some notes to consider – the descriptions of the cakes in the glass display are in German (there is a general English menu available at the table but that has no pictures of the cakes to match them to) which may make ordering a little more challenging and service is a little… well…rough around the edges. We had to ask four times for the bill and were barked at by the waiters each time, but you know what here it kind of doesn’t bother me – this is the real Viennese coffee house experience. There are old school interiors, decently priced cakes (something you can’t say about places like Café Sacher where you are paying a premium for the name alone and the cakes aren’t even THAT good) and yes one or two grumpy waiters but so what… I would go back in a heartbeat! PS: be warned they only take cash so come prepared or face even grumpier waiters!
Every supermarket sells them and boy Manner wafers are rightly known as the best wafers in the world, so make sure you grab a bag (or three like we did) and have them as the perfect in-between snack at your hotel or Airbnb. Could I eat another wafer right now? Not for the foreseeable future that’s for sure, but while in Vienna you kinda have to! Our favourite flavours? Classic vanilla and the “Mozart Mignon” variety, dipped in dark chocolate and filled with marzipan, hazelnut cream and of course wafers!
Now, Motto was the one place every single of my Austrian friends or those that had been to Vienna told me I HAD to go to for dinner and they weren’t wrong with their high praises.
Motto in many ways reminded me of Gloria in London, not in terms of the food served at both venues, but because of the overall dining experience they offer- awe striking interiors with a minute attention to detail, great staff and of course stellar quality food, somewhere that wins you over within the first 5 minutes after which you stop caring how much money you are going to end up spending because it will be worth it. Motto has been a firm favourite of the it crowd in Vienna and visiting celebrities for over 20 years and has not lost one bit of its appeal. There is the main restaurant, all shiny black tables and decadently upholstered seats in rich green velvet, a beautiful courtyard with low hanging lights, pebbles and mismatching antique garden furniture that completely makes you forget you are in the centre of Vienna, and a separate bar with different entrance that is way too glamorous with its marble tops and handsome barmen to not make a stop at as you leave the restaurant after dinner. To be honest it is the sort of place to spend and enjoy an entire evening at start to finish.
Indeed, we started with dinner in the main dining room, all darkly lit, and rather enjoyed the service (FYI the place is known for its hot male waiting staff which only added to our experience). My seasonal white asparagus with hollandaise may have not been the biggest portion in the world, yet was delicious and perfectly cooked and our shared breaded and deep fried Emmenthaler cheese with a pretzel crust, served with tartar sauce and cranberries was an absolute must order. The menu offters a mish mash of classic Austrian dishes with some international influences (even with a touch of Asian) but here it works well and though not cheap, mains are around the 16-20 euro mark, the ambience makes the food 100 percent worth every cent.
After dinner, we settled into the courtyard to enjoy the warm spring evening and I can only recommend you do the same and order one of their outstanding expresso martinis – I got that true holiday feeling sitting in this little garden, a world away from London and my day to day worries. All paid up we were about to leave when Maddie pulled me into the adjoining yet slightly separate bar, also part of Motto, not quite ready to leave on this Saturday night and eager to see what else Motto had to offer. Perching on one of the bar stools, our bartender created some amazing custom cocktails for us, based on our favourite spirits and flavours, and once again the whole experience felt quite special.
Yes, you do get your wanker banker types in suits and yes, I spent more than on my average London Saturday night out, but hands down Motto was worth it. It has been a Vienna restaurant legend for decades now and I can only hope it will continue to be. PS: You can reserve a table online even for weekends at Motto which is a total god send so make sure you do a week or so in advance of your trip!
AUTHENTIC AUSTRIAN FARE AND FANTASTIC SERVICE @ AM NORDPOL 3
My lovely Austrian friend Thomas recommended Am Nordpol 3, calling it a “slightly eccentric, local spot with proper Austrian fare and great prices”, and I couldn’t agree more now that I’ve tried it myself.
It may be a little of the beaten track (still under 20 minutes using the underground from our hotel) but I could not help but almost instantly fall in love with the place. It’s not fancy, it’s a little whacky with various weird artwork on the walls, mismatching furniture and a menu that is entirely written in the most difficult to read handwriting, but that makes this place all the more endearing, original, authentic and as far away from mass tourism or restaurant chains as you can get.
The food is Austrian / Czech with some European influences, prices are ridiculously good, an Aperol spritz is 4.50 and a litre (!) of amazing Austrian wine is 22 euros, and service outstanding. We had the loveliest of waitresses that has worked at Am Nordpol for over 13 years and truly illustrated what good hosting can add to a dining experience and who helped us navigate the huge menu.
Luckily there is an English version available too, printed thank god, and there is ample of choice for meat eaters, they have a supposedly fantastic and huge Schnitzel, as well vegetarians and fish fans like me. I ended up going for the most amazing bowl of Austrian potato dumplings (quite similar to gnocchi in size) in a creamy leek sauce and topped with lashings of smoked salmon – this was pure comfort food and a real steal at 13 euros for a huge portion while Maddie went for some rather outstanding pear and ricotta ravioli in a sage butter sauce that she couldn’t stop gushing about.
There were so many amazing sounding dishes on the menu that we really struggled to settle on what to choose for our mains and sadly also had no space left to try one of their proper Austrian desserts like Kaiserschwarm (a sort of pancake with cream and jam), which only made us want to come back more to this truly unique restaurant gem. Go before the masses find out about the place and it makes into the guide books, seldom do you find such a heart-warming restaurant with such great cooking on offer!
PS: Once again this place is cash only, though there is an ATM in walking distance!
AND DON’T FORGET TO GO FOR A ROOFTOP DRINK @ DACHBODEN
It’s the coolest place in town for a sundowner drink and I may only be slightly biased…
WHAT TO SEE
You can look at Sissy’s amazing dresses (and evidently tiny waist measurement) here and the ticket price also includes entry into the former palatial apartments so you can see with your own eyes where Sissy and Franz Joseph used to eat, sleep and party! Tickets are 15 euros but for sure worth it in my eyes.
This palace is set in amazing gardens that are worth the short walk from the Museumquartier alone.
This impressive cathedral has been at the heart of Vienna since the 13thcentury, entry is free and the interiors are pretty impressive, even to non-churchgoers like me!
As a whole a gorgeous part of Vienna to simple stroll around. Make sure you wonder past the Palmenhaus, a gorgeous green house built by the king in the 18thcentury which not only houses a butterfly garden but also a rather stunning restaurant with outside space that we sadly only had time to walk past.
A lovely permanent outdoor foodie market with lots amazing stalls selling spices, dried and fresh fruits and baked goods but also with some proper restaurants as part of it, with ample outside seating. I heard a lot of amazing things about Nena, a middle eastern joint which supposedly is on par with Honey & Co and we spied lots of other places serving up all kinds of cuisines, from traditional schnitzel to Vietnamese or Turkish. The market is shut on a Sunday and it was pretty empty when we went during a Monday lunch time, so I think the best time to go is on a sunny Saturday for some great people watching and to try lots of different kinds of yummy food!
BUT BE AWARE OF…THE WAITS AT SCHÖNNBRUNN PALACE
Schönnbrunn Palace use to be the main residence of the Emperor and is quite the walk away from where we were staying (a rather unglamorous walk through the rougher parts of town that saw me fall over on gravel being my usual effortlessly elegant self) and turned out to be literal tourist hell. Think buses and buses of Americans, Chinese and of course plenty of Europeans, selfie sticks at the ready and guide book in hand
Even queuing for tickets took a good 25 minutes. We got there around 1pm on a Sunday and somehow assumed this would be fine but were told by the slightly annoyed sounding lady behind the till once we made it to the front that the wait to enter the palace was going to be around 3-4 hours. Now, I don’t know about you but my ideal holiday is not spent waiting outside a palace for 4 hours and then being sardined between tourists when I finally make it inside. Ok maybe may have missed some outstanding culture but trust me: the day walking and eating around Vienna we had instead made me a lot more contempt and familiar with what Vienna is truly about than a visit to Schönnbrunn. If you do go just be sure to take a book (and a phone charger) and quite a lot of patience.
SUNDAY OPENING TIMES
One last heads up- like in in Germany (one of my pet peeves every time I visit my mum), most supermarkets and all normal retail shops are shut on Sunday in Vienna. A little bit of an outdated tradition in my eyes considering how many people ACTUALLY still go to church on that day but be sure you are prepared and buy snacks and other provisions (mainly wine) on the Saturday or you may end up on a wild goose chase like us, tracking down one of the few Spar supermarkets in town open on a Sunday to get your crisp and rose fix as we did to enjoy on our snazzy balcony.
Now book that trip to Vienna, trust me you won’t regret it.
* I had one night's complimentary stay at the 25hours hotel but paid for the other night
I know it’s a bit basic but I LOVE anything truffle flavoured. I know this fancy type of mushroom tends to divide the people with its unique earthy notes, but for me when truffle is on the menu I simply have to order it.
More often however than should be the case, what ends up getting served in front of me turns out to be a real disappointment, indeed not tasting of truffle (or very faintly) at all. After years of searching I have, however, found some real standout truffle dishes in London which I can guarantee will satisfy any truffle lover’s cravings! Have you tried any of these or am I missing any hidden truffle gems? This girl’s mission to keep on eating truffle in any shape or form is sure to continue…
Pizza East has been a reliable East London dinner spot of mine for many years. Soho house run, you always get amazing service, top quality food and a fun dining environment. It’s the sort of place fancy enough to take your parents to but cool enough to start a Friday night out in East London, serving reliably good cocktails and decently priced wine, and I am yet to eat badly here. The mac n cheese is worth commending, the best one I have had out (nothing will ever beat my homemade fig, rosemary and blue cheese mac of course), all cheesy gooey goodness and presented in a rather chic iron skillet, but the real star of the show here is their exceptional truffle pizza.
I have had many so called “truffle pizzas” that merely tasted like some cheap truffle oil had been hastily drizzled on top in the end, if even that, sometimes they just tasted like a plain old cheese pizza, but Pizza East’s version ticks ALL the boxes. It is simplicity at its best – four cheeses, a perfectly bouncy dough with a thick and slightly charred crust and fresh black truffle shaved on top. It’s pizza truffle perfection and for £12 it is also an absolute steal. A long-standing favourite that never loses appeal.
I have sung the praises of this pasta, first enjoyed at Gloria’s sister restaurant Pink Mamma in Paris, many, many times and there is not much more to add. If you want heaven in a bowl order this. Yes, £18 isn’t cheap for pasta but you are also eating at the undoubtedly coolest restaurant in London right now (more on that here) and it’s no ordinary bowl of pasta.
We are talking fresh mafalda pasta, a sort frilly ribbon linguine, in a mascarpone sauce with lashings and lashings of black Molise truffle, so much full on truffle flavour that one is ready to go into a truffle induced state of happiness. I could eat this by the bucket load but be warned this REALLY is only for real truffle lovers and could be slightly overpowering to some. I for one have been dreaming of eating it ever since my last visit. An iconic dish that is worth every queue and one you will never forget sampling for the first time.
This is my ultimate truffle comfort food and never fails to put a smile on my face. Spuntino of course used to my favourite hipster dive bar and small plates restaurant back in my university days. It really used to be the coolest spot in town (with the hottest barmen who I shamelessly and unsuccessfully tried to flirt with for free drinks) and you were lucky if you managed to score a stool around their bar in under an hour. Of course, as time has passed it was inevitable for Spuntino to start appearing in tour guides as “hip spot to visit” and for new places further afield and away from the tourist masses to open, making it less of a dining and drinking destination than it used to be. Silver lining: they still serve the great American comfort junk food with slick edge that I loved so much all those years ago but without the queues and if you get on board with the slightly less “cool” crowd it is still a fab place for a late night dinner in Soho as they are open until 1 am.
The menu has pretty much remained the same which is no bad thing. Their PBJ dessert (peanut butter ice cream “bread slices” sandwiching berry compote) may have gotten a lot smaller and more expensive but I am happy to report that the real star of the show here, the truffled egg toast, is as good and utterly indulgent as it was when I first tried it. Picture a thick slice of fluffy white bread, hollowed out in the middle to house a gooey egg yolk, drizzled with truffle oil and topped with lots of amazing stringy cheese. It really is obesity on a plate but boy is it worth it, combining basically all the bad / good things in life – carbs, cheese, truffle and eggs. It will fix a hangover, it will line a stomach ahead of a night of drinking, heck I’d even say it would meant a broken heart, it is that comforting and THAT good. Just don’t think about the calories you are consuming via one slice of toast, after all a little indulgence is part of life!
As all my good friends know I am a bit of snack fiend. Friday night drinks for me are never complete without an array of yummy nibbles and I am not talking your average Pringles and doritos! There are a lot of crisp brands that have jumped on the truffle flavour band wagon but really have produced crisps that tastes nothing like real truffle (yes looking at you M&S and Tyrell’s!) but Torres’s offering has never failed to deliver. They are a bit of a treat, costing between £3-5 depending on where you find them, but OMG are they worth it. Perfectly crunchy potato crisps with deep truffle flavour, they are snack tray luxury I always get for special occasions and cannot recommend enough!